The golden do­rado, which lures an­glers into the jun­gles of Bo­livia, is a cousin to the pi­ranha, ap­pears to be mostly head and has a set of teeth that can re­move a fin­ger. By PAT FORD

MMy first re­ac­tion was sur­prise. “This fish is com­pletely yel­low!” Ac­tu­ally, it was prob­a­bly a golden yel­low, but it was light years away from any color you’d ex­pect a game­fish to be.

I was in a river in an in­dige­nous na­tive ter­ri­tory where the Ama­zon jun­gle meets the An­des Moun­tains. I had just beached Chris Lalli’s first golden do­rado on a fly. My friend Chris and I had ar­rived at Tsi­mane Lodge in Bo­livia, un­packed our tackle and walked down to the “home pool” to see whether we could dredge up a do­rado on our own be­fore din­ner.

We moved down­stream just a bit, to a deeper, slower pool that looked as if it might hold some fish. It was deeper than ex­pected, so Chris used an in­ter­me­di­ate line, and I dug out a huge black fly with lead eyes. Some de­bris was along the far bank, but there were no vis­i­ble signs of life, so we be­gan cast­ing. Cast af­ter cast pro­duced nada, but I fig­ured the prac­tice of throw­ing over­size flies was good for both of us. Then Chris hooked up to 15 pounds of yel­low magic. Awhile later, I caught one, too. We each had one bite out of sev­eral hun­dred casts, but we both landed a do­rado in the 15-pound range within the first two hours of our buck­etlist trip, so we were pretty stoked with a week of jun­gle fish­ing ahead of us.

Tsi­mane Lodge is one of sev­eral ex­cel­lent, ex­otic fly-fish­ing des­ti­na­tions that Un­tamed An­gling (un­tamedan­gling.com) op­er­ates. Its founders, Marcelo Pžrez and Ro­drigo Salles, con­tacted re­mote In­dian tribes and na­tional parks and of­fered them a deal: Un­tamed An­gling would set up a lodge and bring in a limited num­ber of an­glers dur­ing a rel­a­tively short sea­son; each an­gler would pay a fee to the tribe or park, use bar­b­less hooks and re­lease ev­ery­thing he catches. The lodges would pro­vide jobs for the na­tives, and there would be no neg­a­tive im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. The plan has come to­gether in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion in sev­eral lo­ca­tions. Tsi­mane is a prime ex­am­ple — I’ve found no place else with this qual­ity of an­gling for golden do­rado.

A cousin to the pi­ranha and African tiger­fish, the golden do­rado ap­pears to be mostly head, and it has a set of jaws and teeth that can quickly re­move a fin­ger. Its col­or­ing ex­plains the name: The en­tire fish is a bright yel­low-gold. In most of the fish­able lo­ca­tions that har­bor golden do­rado, a 10-pounder is a tro­phy. At Tsi­mane, do­rado close to 30 pounds are caught on fly tackle ev­ery week.

The first leg of our trip re­quired us to fly to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bo­livia, where a Tsi­mane agent met us and brought us to the first-class Camino

Real Ho­tel for the night. The next morn­ing the agent drove us to the air­port, where we boarded a small plane that flew us about 225 miles into the Bo­li­vian jun­gle. We landed on a strip carved out of the jun­gle, next to the Oro­momo In­dian village. From there the lodge was a 90-minute trip up the Se­cure River in a na­tive-made, 20-plus-foot ca­noe with a long-shaft en­gine.

Tsi­mane Lodge, ini­tially, was far­ther up­stream, at the con­ver­gence of the Pluma and Se­cure rivers. In Fe­bru­ary 2015 flood­wa­ters turned the river

into a 45-foot tor­rent, de­stroy­ing the lodge. Tsi­mane had three months to re­lo­cate and re­build be­fore the 2015 sea­son be­gan that June, and Un­tamed An­gling did it in just 60 days. The team used na­tive la­bor and ma­te­ri­als to con­struct a lodge with four dou­bleoc­cu­pancy rooms, a gen­er­a­tor and so­lar power. Elec­tric­ity is pro­vided be­tween 6 and 10 a.m., and again from 6 p.m. to mid­night. The tem­per­a­ture cools as soon as the sun sets, so there is no need for air con­di­tion­ing. The beds are com­fort­able, and there’s all the hot wa­ter you could ask for. There’s also Wi-fi, out­stand­ing food and daily laun­dry ser­vice. All in the mid­dle of the jun­gle.

Tsi­mane’s river sys­tem is di­vided into beats, with a pair of an­glers and three guides fish­ing each beat each day. The fish­ing guides and boat op­er­a­tors are na­tives, and our guides some­how all man­aged to be from Ar­gentina and spoke per­fect English. Be­fore my trip I’d re­searched Un­tamed An­gling’s web­site and ev­ery golden do­rado video I could find, with most show­ing a small, rapid river with gi­ant do­rado hold­ing in small pools and ed­dies — sight fish­ing at its best. We were told that 8- or 9-weight rods with float­ing lines were the norm, as were huge black flies. I’ve al­ways had a prob­lem cast­ing 6- to 8-inch black flies on an 8-weight, so I stuck with 9s, and I’m glad I did. Chris, on the other hand, had a leg up on all of us. He is a friend, a part-time muskie guide in Vir­ginia and one of the best cast­ers and fly ty­ers I know. Se­ri­ous muskie fish­ing re­quires you to cast a foot-long fly all day, to muster up a few strikes on a good day. Not only did he have the right flies for the Bo­li­vian jun­gle, but he also was used to cast­ing them.

The lodge man­ager, Vi­cente “Chuky” Lorente, took us up­stream to re­mote fast-wa­ter, sel­dom-fished pools. We spent an hour ma­neu­ver­ing over rocks and through na­tive­made chan­nels and cuts where the ca­noe dragged over the rocks. When we fi­nally reached the site of the orig­i­nal lodge, we hiked an­other 90 min­utes through the jun­gle, over a tapir path, un­til we reached an area of river that had not been fished yet that sea­son: vir­gin waters in the re­motest area imag­in­able.

The only prob­lem was that there were no fish. In pools where Chuky ex­pected to see 20 fish, there were none. We worked our way up­stream and found hardly any fish. The ones we did spot saw us and spooked about the same time we started to cast. A cold front had blown through the week be­fore, and wa­ter lev­els were unusu­ally low, but for what­ever rea­son this prime stretch of river (the one shown in most pro­mo­tional videos) was bar­ren. It was in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful, with clear wa­ter and lots of rocks and pools, but no fish.

Though the day was a bust, it proved that the lodge’s cloth­ing rec­om­men­da­tions had been cor­rect. Felt-sole wad­ing boots with­out spikes were the best way to ma­neu­ver around the an­kle-breaker rocks, and jog­ging tights un­der fish­ing shorts were much more com­fort­able than long pants. A wad­ing stick saved me from fall­ing on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions; the rocks along the river­banks and in the flow­ing wa­ter are bru­tal. Bugs were not a prob­lem, but sun masks and gloves were good to have. (I hear that the bug lev­els in­crease later in the sea­son, so re­mem­ber to bring re­pel­lent.) Then again, our na­tive guides went bare­foot and could spot a tree frog 50 yards away. When they couldn’t find fish, we knew we were in trou­ble. (Nat­u­rally I heard that the do­rado were back in the up­per sec­tions the week af­ter we left. Go fig­ure.)

The next day, Chris and I headed down­stream. This turned out to be a to­tally dif­fer­ent fish­ery. The lower Se­cure was big and deep, and we had to make as long a cast as pos­si­ble. Chris had a 10-weight in­ter­me­di­ate line on a 9-weight rod, and I had a 10-weight Cort­land sink tip, as well as my float­ing line, on a 9-weight rod. We were cast­ing lead­eyed flies, and the more wa­ter we cov­ered, the more likely we were to get a bite. It was im­por­tant to be able to shoot out 60-plus feet of line with a min­i­mum of back­casts. (Next trip, I’m go­ing to bring a 10-weight for this sec­tion and a full in­ter­me­di­ate line.)

Our days on the lower beats were spent cast­ing, cast­ing and cast­ing some more. Chris was right at home, and I was glad that I was wear­ing gloves to hold off the blis­ters. The guide would set us up in a sec­tion he knew had re­cently pro­duced fish. We’d cast across-stream, let the fly sink, then fast-strip back, make a few more casts, move down­stream a few steps and re­peat.

The wa­ter in this part of the river was murky, so there was no sight fish­ing. We did aim at rocks, rif­fles and snags whenever they came into range, and it didn’t take long to fig­ure out that the do­rado liked fast wa­ter, as well as the shel­tered sec­tions. There was no pat­tern to our bites: They could come at any time, in any place. Ev­i­dently the do­rado are al­ways mov­ing around, search­ing for sa­balo (Bo­livia’s

ver­sion of mul­let), and you have to keep cov­er­ing wa­ter un­til you find one. I firmly be­lieve that if a do­rado sees a big black fly, it will eat it. The trick is get­ting the fish and fly to meet.

At one point we were cast­ing to fallen trees from the drift­ing boat in cof­fee-col­ored wa­ter. I’d been throw­ing my 9-inch fly for what seemed like an hour with­out any sign of a fish, to the point that I was about to give up. We came around a bend, and I dropped the fly next to yet an­other non­de­script pile of branches and popped a 25-pound beauty. The les­son: Never stop cast­ing. Your next cast can pro­duce the fish of a life­time.

Do­rado feed on the sa­balo, which are about the same size as a big mul­let, which is why our flies were so big. The na­tives hunt them for food with home­made bows and ar­rows, which is re­ally fun to watch. The sa­balo are ev­ery­where, and ev­ery so of­ten the do­rado will drive them al­most onto the bank in a feed­ing frenzy. If you’re close enough to get your fly into the chaos, it’s an in­stant bite. Chris nailed the big­gest fish of our trip, prob­a­bly 30 pounds, in an early-morn­ing frenzy. At other times we’d find do­rado cruis­ing with their fins out of the wa­ter in large, shal­low, flats-like sec­tions. You could spot them quite a ways away, but they were constantly mov­ing, and in only inches of wa­ter they were as spooky as bone­fish. It soon be­came ap­par­ent that golden do­rado are not easy fish to catch. You re­ally have to be a good caster to nail the big ones.

Do­rado are vo­ra­cious feed­ers, and when they strike, the strikes are vi­cious. We were coached to have sharp hooks and to strip-strike mul­ti­ple times. Strikes are al­most al­ways fol­lowed by a se­ries of jumps, then a run down­stream. If you sur­vive the jumps, re­set­ting the hook is a good idea. Their jaws are rock-hard, and if the hook is only prick­ing some bone, any slack in pres­sure can cost you a tro­phy. I lost one that weighed more than 30 pounds, my big­gest hookup of the trip, af­ter five jumps and sev­eral long runs. The hook sim­ply fell out when I thought I was home free. You need to con­cen­trate on set­ting the hook and keep­ing con­stant pres­sure.

We spent three days on the up­per river, and I never caught a fish big­ger than 15 inches. And we never re­ally saw any big do­rado in that part of the river. We caught all of our big fish in the murky waters of the lower river. If all goes well, a de­cent caster should be able to land a 10-plus-pound do­rado each day on the lower beats, even when the fish­ing is slow. I’m told that the up­per sec­tions are a whole dif­fer­ent show when the fish are there, but we never got to ex­pe­ri­ence the red-hot sight fish­ing in the up­per sec­tions. We didn’t count the lit­tle guys that were al­ways whack­ing our flies, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of midrange fish. They were ei­ther less than 3 pounds or well more than 10. Chris and I each caught three fish of more than 25 pounds dur­ing the week, which was more than I had hoped for.

The only other pre­dictable catch at Tsi­mane is the pacu. It looks like a dark fresh­wa­ter per­mit and can grow to more than 20 pounds. It feeds on berries but eats small fish on oc­ca­sion. Chris caught one on a black do­rado fly. Pacu are ex­cep­tion­ally strong fight­ers and a real prize. Most hold in deep pools and along banks with trees that drop berries. Chris had tied some plas­ticbead berry flies that the guides raved about, but de­spite try­ing for hours, I did not man­age to catch a pacu. We spot­ted a lot of them cruis­ing in shal­low wa­ter, but I couldn’t con­nect, which gives me an­other rea­son to re­turn.

If you’re fish­ing the lower sec­tions, I rec­om­mend hav­ing two rods with you at all times: one with float­ing line and one with full in­ter­me­di­ate. The rod-line pair­ing is a matter of in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ence, but I sug­gest prac­tic­ing with 8-inch, lead-eyed flies un­til you get the rhythm down. I over­loaded the 9-weight rods with 10-weight float­ing line to com­pen­sate for the mon­ster flies, which was fine for the up­per sec­tions. How­ever, many times on the lower sec­tions I wished I’d had a 10-weight with a full in­ter­me­di­ate line, just for the ease of cast­ing. The up­per river beats are pretty much float­ing­line ar­eas, and the casts are a lot shorter, but they have to be ac­cu­rate. Pop­pers work well in the up­per beats, and Chris had some suc­cess with a deer hair rat fly that was lit­er­ally the size of a rat. I’d also throw in a 200- to 300-grain sink tip for the deep pools that the pacu in­habit. And there’s al­ways a chance that you’ll hook into an ex­otic cat­fish if you keep the fly just off the bot­tom. Wire lead­ers are also a ne­ces­sity. Don’t let those jaws get near your hands!

I can’t say enough about Un­tamed An­gling’s Tsi­mane op­er­a­tion. If you want near-lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tions where the Bo­li­vian jun­gle meets the An­des Moun­tains, with warm days and cool nights, ex­cel­lent guides and staff, and one of the most ex­otic crit­ters you could ever hope to hook on a fly rod, this is the place to go.

Wad­ing the fast, up­per sec­tions over slick, round rocks was more dif­fi­cult than it looks.

Watch the do­rado’s jaws and never stop cast­ing — the next one could bring the tro­phy of the trip.

The jun­gle lodge; lo­cals go bare­foot; my, what sharp teeth you have; pacu look a bit like a fresh­wa­ter per­mit, feed on berries and are strong fight­ers.

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